Murray Street is the northern border of Peterborough’s downtown. Four blocks of this poorly paved road, from Water to Stewart Streets, serve as a microcosm of the City. It contains the frequently highlighted and frequently disregarded components of this place many of us call home.
Let’s begin at Confederation Square. Formerly a burial ground and then constructed as a public gathering place in 1884, the Square sits at the center of Peterborough. It now contains the Cenotaph War Memorial, the Brown Memorial, and the City’s Honour Roll of the World Wars. The City’s conservative ethos is emboldened by the centrality and grandeur of this park and its memorials. Indeed, the horrors of war are engrained in the sandstone and bronze.
Due to its location directly opposite City Hall, Confederation Square occasionally gathers activists and a small subset of religious-minded individuals. In 2017 the Square will be overlooked by the Y Lofts of the Historic YMCA Building.
Built in 1895, the YMCA building was recently sold by Dr. Jenny Ingram, who acquired it for $1, to Atria Development for $500,000. The historic quality of the building suggests that the apartments will be purchased and rented by the financial secure members of the community.
The 120+ apartments and stores at the Y Lofts will also be steps from City Hall. The architecture and urban planning of City Hall, opened in 1951, was informed by the “City Beautiful movement” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This movement attempted to establish “order, harmony[,] and dignity of design” with the “hope of inspiring the community to a moral and civic virtue.”
As we move from east to west along Murray, from governance to war memorials, the latter continues in the form of more historical landmarks: Peterborough Drill Hall and Armoury.
Constructed shortly after the YMCA building, it follows the red brick style but also evokes a medieval fortress. The building is said to be one of the biggest and best designed drill halls of the period between 1896 and 1918. The Hall continues to operate as a base for the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, a militia dating back to 1800. The Children’s Montessori School also operates out of the medieval fortress.
On the one end of Murray we have local government, military history, and the training of the brightest young minds in the Peterborough area. (Tuition at Montessori Schools cost somewhere between $9500 and $17000 per year.) The Street is also home to the 104 year old Baptist Church. Aside from congregations, the church functions as a warming room and venue of religious-themed performances.
A staple of Murray is the cheaply-made, low-rent apartment buildings, one of which is often filled with garbage and debris. Many of the low-rent buildings are occupied by Trent Students.
The Brock Mission operates on the Street as well. This City-funded Christian charity provides food, clothes, and shelter to those in need. It was established in 1987 and moved to its Murray location in 2006. Since July 2015, the shelter has been at its capacity of 40 men every night.
Brock Mission is in dire need of renovation. Rather than renovating, however, the Mission will be torn down and rebuilt in the near future. It will be funded by the City, fundraising, and mortgaging and will be a vast improvement to the current building.
On the corner of Bethune Street we find the former location of Vinnies/Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The second-hand store, a much appreciated outlet for Peterborough’s financially struggling individuals, moved to a more profitable location near Lansdowne Street in 2011.
A food bank now operates out of this building, still run by the Society. The food bank essentially functions like a grocery store – customers come in and simply take what they need.
Across from the food bank is a house with a sad history. In this house, just a few years ago, a man committed suicide a few weeks after losing his job. Certainly there is more to the story of this man’s death, but its significance is clear.
Prior to Murray’s end at Stewart, on the corner of Bethune are often two sights: police cars and sex workers. Three blocks west of City Hall and the new lofts are the dismissed parts of town. Nevertheless, Bethune receives high automobile traffic, due in part to the necessity of driving in circles until the driver finds his sex worker and the routine passes by police cars, usually en route to the Mission.
This tour along Murray was to suggest that these four blocks are Peterborough. We cannot talk about our bourgeois lofts or military history without recognizing the people and buildings a mere three blocks away.
No longer are the City’s residents in a position to join the militia and fight in wars. The Shelter and food bank speak to this. Moreover, the abundance of postsecondary students who fill the apartments on Murray and nearby areas also speaks to the need for safer, affordable housing.
Murray Street, when viewed as a microcosm, suggests that Peterborough is simultaneously a City that aims to draw wealthy residents and maintain a foot in a past while nevertheless negotiating a lack of sustainable housing and adequate employment opportunities.